Meetings can be boring, ineffective, and uninspiring. There's a better way for creative teams to work together.
There are too many separations that keep us working alone—on our laptops, at our desks, in our offices. Unless a meeting forces us to gather together as a group, our work rarely encourages it, or fosters it — and by “it,” I mean collaboration. We have fancy messaging apps to give us the illusion of being together, we can email and invite people to join threads, we can add people to Basecamp messages and have ToDos ping their inbox. But none of this is working together.
It’s a back and forth, and this is how most agency / client relationships happen as well.
Why aren’t we working together? For one, we don’t have good processes for working together, so it becomes inefficient. The dreaded meeting is a horrible method for collaboration, yet it’s the birthplace for every single gathering to discuss something work-related I’ve ever been involved in.
A meeting states, “You must cease work on the important things you were doing and come be with these other people who have had to stop doing important things they were doing for exactly one hour (or two) so that you can all accomplish something more important.”
That’s a lot of pressure if there’s not a process to get you there.
And that’s also why most of us abhor meetings. There is an implied passivity to the concept of meetings, unless you’re leading the meeting. Meetings are often dominated by a few loud voices who always get more bandwidth, and heavily influence the outcomes. Too many folks just sit around the conference room table or quietly check their email during a conference call, feeling forced to waste time.
We need to find better ways to work together.
Our combined experience, wisdom, perspective, and skills should result in a better outcome than the one we would achieve if left to work independently.
We should replace the word “meeting” with “working session” or “workshop.” This implies that everyone is active and contributing. By structuring your old-fashioned meetings to be working sessions, you’ll get more enthusiastic contribution and more valuable output. But you'll have to change the way you run them for real value to be found.
Try this approach for your next meeting and see if you don't get a better outcome.
Only involve those who need to be involved, and that includes both team members who are on site and those who may be working in other locations. A solid and fast-paced agenda should be provided, ideally at least a day before the session for people to prepare as necessary.
Start with the outcome. What is the “thing” you must leave the session with in order for it to be successful? Is it an information architecture? A content strategy? A plan for letting the company know about a big rollout? An agreed upon approach to solving a problem? Be very clear at the beginning of the session what the main goal is.
Next — actively record the session. Have someone taking notes on a white board or in a shared space so everyone can see what is being captured. No one else should be taking notes during a session. Instead, they should be participating.
A session leader should keep the session on track, move it along, and not let anyone hijack it or divert the purpose.
For a good working session to happen, every attendee must not only participate, but contribute. Saying “I agree,” isn't good enough. Make sure everyone knows that you only want input that hasn’t already been stated, and that moves the issue closer towards a resolution or an agreed upon outcome. If you have attendees participating remotely, choose video conferencing over phone calls whenever you can. This will make it easier to capture feedback from the entire group. When new and unrelated topics arise, capture them in a secondary list and keep moving forward.
There is no room for conversation hogs, diverters, or individual agendas.
Stay on a schedule. Start on time, end on time, have each agenda item limited to a time block, and have a timer running to alert you when it’s time to move on. If there are technology or dial-in issues to be worked through, make sure those tasks are handled before the meeting start time. This strict focus on timing and schedules might seem contrarian to a “creative brainstorm session,” but let’s be honest. Nobody wants to sit around for hours hoping a moment of inspiration will strike. Keep it moving, and regroup for another session if you hit roadblocks. Don’t let the session sprawl or exhaustion and frustration will keep everyone from wanting to do it again.
At the conclusion of the session, recap the major outcomes and ensure the room is in agreement. Then make sure someone records all the notes that were taken or any other relics from exercises or activities. A few photos on your phone are fine — as long as they are all shared somewhere easily accessed by all relevant team members for future reference.
By collaborating rather than meeting or working in silos, we can speed our processes up, unearth conflicts earlier, garner stakeholder support consistently, and benefit from the combined wisdom of the group.
Yes, sometimes genius strikes when we’re in the shower, or feverishly working at our desks. We should always pay attention to those ideas, record them, and bring them to the next collaborative session.
At some point, regardless of your role or your industry, your ideas and outputs will have to be handed over to others for scrutiny, review or use. By working together more frequently, and productively, you’ll harness the combined creativity, experience and intellect of your full team. To me, that’s a better way to work.